I recently had the pleasure of giving a private dining etiquette session and I was asked the question “Is it better to eat using the American or Continental Style?” I have heard this question many, many times and always wonder why people think there are only two styles of eating.
There are various styles of eating throughout the world, and each style will be correct for the culture it belongs to. Everyone knows that in many countries chopsticks are used and that in other countries knives and forks are used. However, there are many variations in between. Whether it be using chopsticks, or using spoons and forks together, or using fingers only, each culture has it’s own etiquette for eating. In some cultures it is considered rude to leave food on the plate at the end of a meal, yet in others it is considered rude not to! You may consider it very rude to listen to someone making noise while they eat. Someone else reading this may consider it rude when no noise is made during eating. The variations are endless when it comes to styles of eating and manners at the table.
In the Western world where the majority of countries use a knife and fork, there are also various styles of using cutlery, including the American style, Continental style, British style and the European style, which actually has some slight variations according to country. So is there a preferred style? Is one style of eating more “correct” than the others?
Simply put…No! Each style of eating is correct. However, there are certain situations when one style of eating may not be appropriate. I encourage people to choose a style that they are comfortable with and use it daily. I also encourage people to be aware of other styles of eating and use them when necessary. For example, if you plan on travelling abroad for business, I would recommend using the Continental style of eating. This is the style of eating which is considered a happy medium for all cultures. Consider that in Britain, when dining the hands are kept below the table during the meal when the cutlery is not being used, but in France this is considered rude, and hands should always be visible at the dining table. So if you are visiting a country for the first time and expect to be invited for dinner by an acquaintance or client, I would recommend some research beforehand. You wouldn’t want to use your knife and fork in a manner that could unwittingly cause offence.
So what is the Continental Style of Eating?
This method is considered the most “diplomatic” style of eating. It is a style of eating that is recognized internationally, particularly by business people and diplomats. It is the least likely to cause offence anywhere in the world. If you use another style of eating, or mix different styles of eating, those around you may think that you don’t know how to eat politely and will judge you.
How to eat Continental style
The main consideration is how to use the utensils. This style of eating shouldn’t be too difficult for Europeans. It is harder for Americans who switch their fork between hands throughout the meal. With continental style the fork always stays in the left hand, with the tines pointed down, and the knife is always held by the right hand. The food is then speared by the fork and brought to the mouth with the tines facing down. The cutlery never changes hands.
Of course there are other differences to be aware of when using the Continental style of dining, including cutlery placement throughout the meal and at the end of the meal but if you remember to keep your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right hand, you can’t go too far wrong.
The Etiquette Consultant